Protect Plants From Hail Damage-The Best 3 DIY Hail Protection For Your Garden

 

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Ice falling from the sky during the heat of summer seems like the stuff of science fiction, but hail is a serious concern for gardeners in the late spring and throughout the summer. Hail is a product of he combination of thunderstorm clouds, warm surface temperatures and the resulting updrafts strong enough to push moisture into the upper atmosphere, where it freezes before falling to earth. Ranging in size from small pellets to the size of golf balls or even larger, the effects on this weather anomaly can be devastating to the garden, especially early in the season when plants are still developing.  In some cases, crop loss is all but inevitable, but knowing how to prepare when hail can be predicted or how to clean up when it can’t can mean the difference between total crop loss or a bountiful summer in the garden.

DIY 1.Hail Protection for Your Plants.

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This time of year, your plants are just starting to get going. How many times have you just gotten them planted, they are doing great, then one hail storm destroys all your effort?

Row covers can help, but often hail is too heavy when it starts to accumulate and will crush cloth covers and the plants underneath. If you drape the cloth covers over a taunt wire or plastic undercarriage or hoop structure, it will help greatly because the hail will roll right off and not accumulate on top of the fabric crushing it down.

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For small bushes or trees, wire mesh works extremely well without having to build an elaborate infrastructure around every tree. It is sturdy enough to bend it into a teepee and just place it over small plants. However, it would be much too time consuming to do this with every individual plant in a garden, so a complete garden covering is more appropriate. I once built a pergola over an entire garden area and covered it with wooden lattice. It worked great for hail protection because any hail that made it through the holes in the lattice was not enough to do substantial damage. The lattice also offered partial shade for our intense Colorado sun, but it may provide too much shade in other areas.

Many garden supply companies make an actual hail covering made of varying types of material. Whatever type of covering you use, you will need to create support for it in advance of a hail storm, and keep in mind that whatever you use has to support a great deal of weight without tearing or stretching to the point of reaching the ground and crushing and breaking plants.

Also keep in mind that if it is going to be left in place the entire season or most of the spring hail season, you want to allow as much light to reach the plants while still protecting them as possible. This is why wire works so well; it is very sturdy, can withstand a great deal of weight, will not crush down or sag and will allow plenty of light to still reach your plants. They only downside to using wire is that it is usually much more expensive than fabric, but when you consider that it will last forever without tearing or needing to be replaced, you may find the initial extra investment well worth it.

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A wire structure is easy to install over raised beds or small areas, so for them the wire works best. Large gardens are a different story. You can get as elaborate as you want and as permanent as you want, but it's more cost effective to use cloth material to cover large areas. In the photo above, I buried 10 foot cedar posts in the ground 8 feet apart. Then fastened wooden rails across the top of them to secure one side of the fabric to. In this case, I used shade fabric which doubles as a hail covering in the spring and protection from the hot Colorado sun in late summer.

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I strung wire guide cables from one side of the garden to the other and connected them to each adjacent post. I tie up the fabric with the orange string you see in the photo so that when a hail storm is approaching, I can quickly just jump up on my chair, untie the orange string and pull the fabric across the top of the guide wires. I then tie it to the guide wires so the wind does not blow it up.

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This system is quick and works very well. In the winter, and during nice weather, I simply keep the shade fabric tied back like you see it here. Make sure to pour concrete around the posts so they don't fall over from the tension of the guide wires pulling them. Even though I used concrete around them here, one of the posts in the middle is starting to lean in anyway, which is the reason for the wooden brace you see holding it up. During long periods of rain when the ground gets saturated, the posts may lean in a bit. Just push them back with a brace like I am here until the ground dries out again.

How to Use a Protective Garden Cover

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What we gardeners don't have to endure and get creative about in order to have any crops at all. We have to protect them from deer (which is why I also have a 7 foot wire fence all the way around my garden and attached to the wooden posts), the bugs, the weather and rodents. But, if we can manage to build Alcatraz around everything, we just might get to taste the fruits of our labor.

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Finding a way to do that and make it as low maintenance as possible is a gardener's unending dilemma. Hail damage can ruin an entire garden or crop in a matter of just a few minutes. Hopefully we have given you some quick and easy ways to help your plants actually make it to harvest. Garden on.(source)

DIY 2.“Hailey Grail”

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So here is the “Hailey Grail” of Garden Covers! The sun still hits as does the rain but you can be STRESS FREE when hail stones hit Calgary because the Hailey Grail will have your garden protected. This is birthed after Brian and I TRIED to beat a great white combine coming through. We couldn’t get the garden covered in time and it wiped out our poor garden.

Here are your basic instructions:
5 pieces of rebar - halved
5 pieces of PVC tube from Totem
Spool of Mesh from Rona (sturdy construction wire)
4 pieces of 8 foot 1x2
package of zip ties

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The wire is attached to the PVC pipe on the far side and the top the half that rolls up is secured by the over lapping of the construction mesh. We lay the wire so it had the tendency to roll up naturally so we did want it to roll up it would have a natural desire to do so the edges are covered both side with 1x2 8 foot length with off cuts running opposite so it holds straight.(source)

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DIY 3 Hail Protection for the Veggie Garden

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This summer has been an unusual one considering the last dry few years,  with all the moisture we have been receiving.  If you have lived in the Pikes Peak region long you know along with our thunderstorms, we often receive unwanted hail.  Our region is part of what is called “Hail Alley”.  Hail Alley extends from southeast Alberta, Canada, into Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.  The most hail-prone city in North America is Cheyenne, Wyoming.


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Living and gardening in the Pikes Peak Region requires skill, knowledge, luck and a lot of patience.  Not only do we have to deal with drought conditions at times, but when it does rain it is sometimes severe weather.  You can garden here and live with the hail we receive if you are proactive and erect some sort of hail protection structures.

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A severe hailstorm to gardeners can mean almost certain death to a vegetable garden if it comes late in the growing season and you have no hail protection.  Hail protection can range from lying a sheet across your plants, hardware cloth, hoop tunnels, screen lying across your cages to commercial made ones you can buy on the Internet.  Basically, all you want to do is protect your plants, but still allow air, water and sunshine to penetrate.

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My primary defense against hail is the “Three Season Raised Bed Garden (TSRBG)” made by one of our master gardeners Larry Stebbins.  It is multi-functional.  In the spring it allows me to start planting early, but when the thunderstorms roll in and the hail starts to fall it provides outstanding hail protection.  It is made from PVC piping and 6 mil U.V. treated plastic for extended seasonal usage.  If you are interested in one contact Larry Stebbins at ppugardens.org.

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My secondary defense against hail incorporates some of the same principles of the TSRBG.  I use the PVC piping for the structure but use bird netting as a means of protection.  The bird netting not only keeps the birds away from my berries, but also deflects hail.  The bird netting is also U.V. treated so it will last a long time in the garden.  The PVC piping I just stick in the ground and drape the netting over the piping and attach it with some metal fasteners.

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If you happened to receive some damaging hail and your garden looks like someone shot with a machine gun don’t despair.  You still have time to salvage some of your garden.  Your root crops may be mature enough to harvest.  If not, and there is still some green at the top, just remove the damaged parts and hopefully your plants will have enough time to recuperate.  Leafy plants, like lettuce, remove the outer leaves and hope for new growth.  If no new growth in about two weeks, replant the plants for a fall garden.

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Contributed by Rich Young, Colorado Master Gardener. For answers to your horticultural questions, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at 636.8921 or [email protected].  Photos courtesy of Rich Young.

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